Gone to San Francisco. Back next week.
When I only had 30 entries on Blosxom, this blog ran great. Over the last five years, however, I've written almost 2,000 posts, and the original Perl script has started to bog down a bit. Adding an plugin to cache the filesystem helped some, but it still takes a little more than 2 seconds to render the page. I think it has something to do with the Perl interpreter--there's some discussion online about how Blosxom doesn't like running under Apache's mod_perl, or something like that. As far as I'm concerned, Apache is a practical joke played on DYI-types by malicious shell coders, so I can't really be bothered to find out.
Long story short, last night I rewrote Blosxom as a PHP script. That sounds really hardcore, until you realize that A) it's only 16KB to begin with, and B) I took out all the features I don't use, like static rendering and complete plugin support (mine only supports entry and document processing plugins). It's running now at index.php instead of the old index.cgi, and I've redirected the domain default. I'll be leaving the old Perl script in place so that legacy links will continue to function, but anything that didn't specify an index script should now benefit from the speed boost.
If you're reading this via Google Reader, you probably don't need to do anything--Google doesn't care how slow my server is. On other RSS readers, you may notice a faster refresh and more accurate post times by switching to the new feed. And if you read via the actual page (or link to it) at the .cgi URL, you'll notice a real difference by switching to the new URL--it's about an order of magnitude faster, going from ~3 seconds to ~300ms in my tests, even without optimizations.
The worst ways people found Mile Zero this month:
Better luck next month, Internet.
Last week, I got a phone call from someone who had worked for one of the outlets where I've been published. Their name was listed in my copy of the article at thomaswilburn.net, and they asked if I could take it out in the interests of trimming their online presence a bit--I guess they didn't want to be associated with the publication anymore. I can certainly sympathize with that feeling, and was more than happy to help.
It was an interesting coincidence, though, because I've been thinking more about my own Internet shadow lately. I write here, and maintain a portfolio elsewhere, under my real name. This has advantages, and it also has disadvantages. At the very least, it can be surprising: the now-unnamed correspondent was able to contact me at my (unlisted) work number because I list my current place of employment on the portfolio (and also likely because I don't provide an e-mail address there, which I should probably fix). Like it or not, I can be easily located online, which ties my realspace identity to all the writing I've done here. And while I consider that a net positive (pardon the pun), it should still give any reasonable person pause.
Or to put it another way, when I meet someone who says "Oh, I've read your stuff," my first impulse shouldn't be to wonder if I've advocated a coup or something similarly inflammatory lately.
The obvious solution is to try not to write stupid posts, and I'm working on that (it's one reason that I suspect entries here have become both less lengthier and less frequent). But at the same time, over the last week or two, I've gone back through the archives here and spiked quite a few entries. They're not permanently deleted, but they are unpublished. A post may have been spiked for any number of reasons, including:
In my experience, this is an unpopular action for a blogger to take, and I'm not entirely comfortable with it myself. That said, I believe it's necessary and prudent. While it's a nice idea for the "arc" of the blog to follow my viewpoints and development as a writer and a person, the fact is that very few people will ever read it that way. More likely, any entry needs to be something that I can support professionally, regardless of the publication date, since it may be encountered without context or supporting posts.
It should also be stressed that this is hardly the first time my archives have been reshuffled and restructured, although it is the first time it has happened intentionally. Over a period of four years, the process of changing hosts, tweaking Blosxom and its plugins, and server outages means that any website will undergo some level of "memory loss," and Mile Zero is no different. This time, it's simply editorially-directed--and for most of the cuts, I suspect, the posts won't be missed.
In any case, while I've already conducted this surgery on the archives, I'm announcing it here in the interests of full disclosure. If something you found valuable has been pulled, or you believe that a particular post should have been retained, please feel free to send me a note via the mail link on the right, and we'll see if we can work something out.
Although I reserve the right to change plans at any time, both writing and commenting will probably be thin this week. I'm trying cut down on the amount of extra typing at the moment, as well as temporarily giving up use of the XBox and my musical equipment, since I've been feeling the twinges that herald the return of repetitive stress injury. As a writer, coder, bassist, and gamer, RSI is something that I've come to know fairly well. And after working with sufferers in a data-input center, I have no desire to aggravate my symptoms. I'd urge anyone here who suspects that they might be in a similar situation to be very, very careful: you only get one set of hands, after all.
Like I said, at the moment my recovery strategy consists of avoiding activities which aggravate my joints whenever possible. I also habitually use a trackball at work, which I find is slightly easier on my wrists, and I'm trying to take advantage of Vista's voice command app to do my computing at home. Feel free to suggest other helpful measures in the comments.
Update: Hands and wrists still hurting. Picked up an ergonomic mouse, made a doctor's appointment on Thursday, still trying to stay away from keyboards/basses/video games, but unable to avoid work at this time. Actually kind of enjoying the lack of blogging, although that won't last.
In which I read through the least-common search phrases for this site, extract the noise from the signal, and then gripe about it.
True fact: the top search phrase (not individual keyword, but actual phrase) for MileZero.org is "music"--just the single word, all by itself. This strikes me as a terrific act of faith. I can only imagine the disappointment of the 325 people who typed that into Google and ended up here as a result.
Four years ago, when I converted a spare domain into this blog, I started putting posts on technology into the random/tech directory (since it runs on Blosxom, which builds this page from the UNIX file system, that means that these posts are in a "tech" subcategory under the "random" top-level category). In retrospect, this was not a good idea. I've written a fair amount in that subfolder, to the point where it's not really random anymore. Today I moved it out to a top-level category of its own.
A category-based system on a blog with any kind of topical range has serious flaws. For example, there are a fair number of posts under the "bank" directory (for World Bank) about technology in development, and these could probably be better posted under "tech." But at the time when I wrote them, I didn't have that category, so I put them where they're best suited. And since the heirarchical system can't "share" posts between categories, I can't really cross-post them--especially since, if the URLs for permalinks were category based (and most of mine are), those links will break when the URL changes.
If I used a tag-based system, that wouldn't be a problem. Everything would live in a big database soup, and moving things around would be as simple as adding an additional tag--if I hadn't already done so. Indeed, people like Clay Shirky often use this as a reason for why tag-based systems are superior to heirarchies, because you don't have to perfectly plan out your ontology, and because it becomes responsive to your subject matter instead of the reverse.
I understand that reasoning, but I was kind of counting on a system that dictated my categories--they're mine, after all, so I can't really complain about the imposition. I find that when I use tags for personal categorization I tend to use them in silly ways. I can't take them seriously. And I had hoped, frankly, that this wouldn't be a tech blog: putting "tech" under "random" was meant to keep me honest. It didn't work, but I still think it was worth a shot.
Actually moving the posts to their new place is pretty easy, but now anything linking to /random/tech is broken. There are three ways to deal with this. I could write a script that would go through and correct the links. I might do that, but it's not high on my list of priorities, for obvious reasons. I could leave the posts where they are, in which case browsing by category (something I do much more often than I link to myself) would remain unintuitive. Or I could just break the system (links by date, which until very recently was the default for my RSS feed, will continue to work correctly).
I'm going to do the latter. First, because I've already been through a server change that probably destroyed half of my date-based URLs, and second, because I just don't really care that much. Honestly, I don't think it matters. A permalink and a good category is a wonderful thing. But 99% of the time, if I'm looking for a specific post either here or elsewhere, I use an third-party search engine to get there anyway. The benefits of categories or tagging are, I suspect, more for the writer than the reader.
If nothing else, think of it this way: Have you ever wished the Internet could forget? I certainly have. So I'm giving the Web a little bit of forgetfulness, limited to my tiny patch of it. Every link's an adventure, and possibly a problem-solving challenge!
Last week was busy--almost too busy. Here's what I was doing, since I obviously wasn't writing here:
I'm thankful for search keyphrases and the free content they provide. Also, according to my stats, I'm thankful for readers who pimp this blog in the Wired comment sections. Because lord knows I'd love to have the Wired crowd descend like a locust horde, leaving behind only poor grammar and insinuations about my sexuality.
This week until Friday I'm in St. Paul, helping CQ cover the Republican National Convention.